V ache Paysage, on offer in Important Design on 6 December, is one of François-Xavier Lalanne’s most meaningful and carefully utilized figures in his remarkable procession of animal sculptures, at the heart of which lies his fascination with the animal and zoological worlds. His respect for the tradition of animalier sculpture and the influence of master François Pompon translate here into the serious, gleaming surfaces of the black, patinated bronze and the skilled craftsmanship of its execution, creating a naturalistic effect that contrasts with the Surrealist treatment of the form.
The sculpture, whose title translates to “Cow Landscape,” radiates a singular quality and anthropomorphic presence, defined by its hollowed-out center, which allowis for viewers to see through the piece and to reveal the paysage, or landscape, behind the animal. This isn’t the first animal that François-Xavier has hollowed out. His Rhinocretaire series – in which the bodies of rhinos transmutate into desktops, drawers and hidden compartments – delighted the public and critics alike when its first iteration was shown in 1964. In a similar vein, his later Poisson-Paysage cut a fish in half to incorporate a rectangular framing device allowing for the landscape to be visually integrated into the sculpture.
Les Lalanne liked to play with constraints and design their sculptures in a way that complements a place or a purpose. Many binaries populate their work: they are vegetal and animal, masculine and feminine, natural and artificial, interior and exterior. Throughout their oeuvre, they call upon the viewer to question such traditional dichotomies and to instead think of their sculptures as inherent components of a living and lived-in environment. One of such examples is Les Lalanne’s home of Ury, which was both a place of residence and a working studio that they treated as the center of their fantastical bestiary.
The recent exhibition of a Vache Paysage in the Trianon Gardens of Versailles testifies to the very essence of the piece. Displayed in a pastoral setting, with luscious greenery, superb flora and Lalanne moutons seen in a distance, the Vache came to life, its hollow interior functioning both as a framing device for the nature around it as well as a mise-en-abyme device questioning the boundaries between art and reality. Quite literally through the piece, François-Xavier invites us to pay closer attention to our environment, to the paysage made visible by the cow in a manner that frames the landscape as a work of art in and of itself.